Fearless archer Ygritte’s days of fighting Crows on Game of Thrones may be over, and Gwen Dawson may have married up from the servants’ quarters on Downton Abbey, but audiences haven’t seen the last of actress Rose Leslie.
After making her mark on two of the most popular dramas on television, the charismatic actress has moved on from Westeros and Downton to conquer Hollywood, beginning with her starring role in director Leigh Janiak’s new horror film Honeymoon. Leslie and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful) play a newlywed couple whose romantic, rustic honeymoon getaway is upended when the bride suddenly goes missing, returning just as mysteriously but acting increasingly bizarre.
Leslie sat down with Spinoff Online to discuss the challenges of taking on a horror film that more often than not focuses solely on the two leads, as well as where she hopes her career takes her next following the exposure she’s received on TV.
Spinoff Online: Where are you in terms of your horror fandom? Are you much of a fan of the genre?
Rose Leslie: The horror genre – I mean, I consider myself a bit of a wimp, really, and I respond far greater to the more kind of psychological thriller type of movie. And I think that I am more creeped out, and it resonates greater with me with it being psychological rather than a visual effect of blood or horror or gore, as it were.
You kind of watch it between the fingers, if you have to?
Yes! Exactly. And that’s so much fun, isn’t it? I mean, the anticipation, the suspense is always a great thing.
But I’d imagine on the other side of the camera – especially with movie like this – there are some fun opportunities to dig into characters in psychological situations. So what was the certain appeal of this project?
For me, it absolutely was reading the script for the first time ever. It was the transformation. It was the fact that already, within one secluded world that one character could make such an arc, and also get it so fundamentally wrong. And just try and protect her loved one, but also by making it so much worse, because she has this maternal side in her. Whereas I feel that she should always have been honest and been like, “I actually don’t know what the hell happened to me in the woods, and I wish that we could work this through together,” kind of thing. “Let’s go get help.” But obviously there wouldn’t be much of a movie in that! Also something, it greatly appealed to me the fact that this was a two-hander: Never before have I read something whereby the weight to guide the movie was very much on only two people’s shoulders. And knowing that Harry was involved was a huge incentive. And realizing that, not only being a fabulous young man, but also an incredibly good actor, that we could actually portray a genuine, loving couple and just how interesting it would be to see the seeds of doubt and to see the dissolve of this relationship and just be watching it, kind of like, like, “Oh, my God, you idiot, tell him the truth!” kind of thing.
So for you to have that kind of opportunity, to have this movie just be about you and Harry -- whereas you’re known, especially here in America, for these fabulous ensemble pieces that you’ve done with Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey -- how was the experience for you to have almost all of the attention on you?
Oh, loved it! It was great. It was – as you say – it was very much a new thing that I hadn’t really come across, whereby the intensity was so strong, because – you’re right – the attention is very much on you and Harry, and you’re not wanting to get it wrong. You’re wanting to please Leigh, obviously. But because it was so intimate – never before have I worked on something, whereby it is on screen for it to feel more like a play. Like, it really did, within that cottage, within that confined space. There was so much rehearsal going on with just the two of us, because there was really no one else to think of. And so it was rehearsal and shoot, and then maybe going back to another rehearsal and then maybe rehearsing on another scene in a break, and it was like a play. It was like a production. It was really, really great. And I didn’t foresee that, and then while shooting it was like, “Oh, my God, I’m loving this more than I expected.”
You’re at this really great point as an actress, as far as what the next moves are going to be, because you’ve shown diversity, you’ve got certain loyal fans, you’ve got an audience that’s familiar with you. So what’s the game plan? What are you thinking about right now, as far as growing your career out in different directions?
Right now I feel that, fundamentally, I would like to be doing this for the rest of my life, if I’m lucky enough. And I feel that with longevity in my mind, I would like to play the full-on long game, and I feel that with that personally – and this is just my own opinion – that needs range and that needs versatility and that needs to keep people guessing, and to hopefully show the different range that you can do. And so I’m wanting to do different projects, whereby it stretches me in that way. And how fortunate I am to be able to do that right now, and I never know how long it would last for.
Along with those risks that you want to take, what genres do you find yourself drawn to?
I mean, never say never, but at the moment, I don't really know comedy, and at the moment, I love drama. I really do; I love drama. I enjoy playing the high stakes. I also enjoy playing vulnerability and just kind of like a broken soul, so it’s really like kind of nitty-gritty drama, something I respond to. But comedy would be great. To do another horror would be great, so I’m very much open.
With what we saw Ygritte do in Game of Thrones, I feel that you’ve got comedy chops ready to go.
Oh, you think?
She was very funny in the way she’d tease Jon Snow, so I think you handled that stuff well. Don’t balk it – jump into a comedy as soon as you can.
Oh, thank you. That’s a lovely thing to hear.
What were the big learning experiences, first with Downton Abbey and then Game of Thrones? How did each of those change the game for you as a person and as a performer?
I think as a performer, certainly Downton Abbey was the first-ever television show series that I’d ever been involved with. I’d only ever had a couple of jobs before, and it was like, one episode here, one scene there in another series, and so that really gave me the sense of an ensemble piece. And then being able to then go and reach and go to Game of Thrones was wonderful, because that springboard is just brilliant, and I’d never been involved in something whereby the production value is so high, and everybody in their own departments are reaching for the best, and the miniscule detail is looked upon and discussed and changed and given a whole new ball of energy. And so that was something that I have now come to learn that it is important, to make sure that you kind of inspect every single aspect of every single department really, from wardrobe to hair, and have a voice in the way that you want your character to be developed. Because I think when I started out as a young, naïve actress, I was thinking, “Oh, whatever you think the character is, then that is the character.” And I’m slowly beginning to find my voice, which is nice. But that’s growing up!
And then I’d imagine, given the platform of Game of Thrones, your agents get a script a day for you that involves swinging a sword or shooting a crossbow or something like that.
Do you want to find something in an action or fantasy genres, or do you sort of want to veer away from that for the moment?
Well, the film that I am working on right now [The Last Witch Hunter], that is action, and so right now that is something that definitely appeals to me, simply because I love the physicality of it all. That is something that I really, really enjoy. But you’re right, I think it’s important not to be put in a hole, and kind of harkening back to our conversation before, whereby you want to show versatility, if you’re lucky enough, and so it would be interesting to step away from that. But right now, I’m incredibly happy to be working on an action film, and I can’t wait.
Opening today in select theaters, Honeymoon is also available on iTunes and VOD.